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Press Play: A Course in Interactive Device Design

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Design Across the Curriculum

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1004.1 - 24.1004.11



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Paper Authors


David Sirkin Stanford University

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David Sirkin teaches interactive device design in Stanford University's department of electrical engineering, and is a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for Design Research and the Communication between Humans and Interactive Media Lab.

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Wendy G. Ju Stanford University

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Wendy Ju is the executive director of interaction design research at Stanford University's Center for Design Research. She is also an assistant professor in the graduate design program at California College of the Arts. She recently completed a stint at the University of California, Berkeley coordinating cross-campus design activities at the Cal Design Lab, and launched the College of Environmental Design's first ever Design Frontiers Workshops. Since receiving her Ph.D. from Stanford in 2008, Wendy has been innovating curriculum at the intersection of technology, design, and the arts. At CDR, Wendy aims to increase awareness and appreciation for the role of design research and to make the Bay Area the epicenter for design intellectualism and discourse.

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A Course in Interactive Device DesignPress Play: Interactive Device Design is a three-year-old freshman-level course at Stanford thatexplores the human-centered and technical workings behind interactive devices ranging from cellphones and video controllers to household appliances and smart cars. Students build a workingMP3 player prototype of their own design using embedded microcontrollers, digital audiodecoders, component sensors and other electronic hardware. Topics include electronicsprototyping, interface prototyping, sensors and actuators, microcontroller development,multimodal displays, physical prototyping, user needs and usability testing.The course is intended as a deep-dive introduction to electrical engineering through the vehicleof interactive device design. We hope to engage students having a general familiarity with theproducts of electrical engineering with the underlying tools and technologies that make suchproducts possible. By focusing the class project on the design of a digital music player, we aim toattract a broad demographic, and to illustrate how human-centered design considerations can tobe integrated into the system design process.Lectures alternatively focus on design methods and practical technical topics. The first half of thecourse is more practically focused, while the second half introduces topics such as short-runprinted circuit board manufacture and enclosure design, and includes guest lectures from localconsumer electronics company founders to help students to contextualize how what they arelearning is used in industry and beyond.As the course is oriented toward students entering engineering, it is often their first experience inmanaging a design project of their own devising. As such, it is also their first experience settinginitial goals, moving these goals as they become experts at their problem domain, handlingsetbacks, and pacing themselves for a final push to complete, document and present a project at apublic event. It can take some convincing for students to realize that they—rather than theinstructors—are the final authority on setting and moving goals or pacing themselves. Due to thislatitude, students are assessed not so much on their point grades on labs and homeworkassignments, but on the depth and clarity of thought in their project motivation, how well theirsolution addresses initial needs, how well they allocated their time and resources, and theirability to communicate—even to teach—their newfound knowledge to others.We hope that this course description—which encompasses motivation, implementation andassessment—provides insights and inspiration for those looking to teach similar courses.

Sirkin, D., & Ju, W. G. (2014, June), Press Play: A Course in Interactive Device Design Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--22937

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